The global transition to a circular economy calls for research and development on technologies facilitating sustainable resource recovery from wastes and by-products. Metal-bearing materials, including electronic wastes, tailings, and metallurgical by-products, are increasingly viewed as valuable resources, with some possessing comparable or superior quality to natural ores. Bioleaching, an eco-friendly and cost-effective alternative to conventional hydrometallurgical and pyrometallurgical methods, uses microorganisms and their metabolites to extract metals from unwanted metal-bearing materials. The performance of bioleaching is influenced by pH, solid concentration, energy source, agitation rate, irrigation rate, aeration rate, and inoculum concentration. Optimizing these parameters improves yields and encourages the wider application of bioleaching. Here, we review the microbial diversity and specific mechanisms of bioleaching for metal recovery. We describe the current operations and approaches of bioleaching at various scales and summarise the influence of a broad range of operational parameters. Finally, we address the primary challenges in scaling up bioleaching applications and propose an optimisation strategy for future bioleaching research.